Wouldn’t you love to throw an unforgettable costume party during the peak of cabin-fever season, educate your congregation about an amazing Old Testament story, do some creative outreach, and have a blast all at the same time? You can do all those things with this Midwinter Festival, based on the book of Esther.
The traditional Jewish celebration of Purim celebrates Esther’s story. Purim always comes in late winter. This holiday is filled with masks and costumes, noisemakers, delicious foods, games, and a retelling of the biblical story. As well as giving us a creative idea for a late-winter party, our Purim celebration helped us share an important story with our children.
Esther’s is an amazing story of God’s deliverance of his people. It’s the one book of the Bible where God’s name is never mentioned, yet God’s sovereignty and deliverance are imprinted on every word of this miraculous account. Esther’s bravery has much to teach us today.
Esther was a beautiful and courageous young woman who lived in an anti-God culture. She could’ve remained silent about her belief in the one true God and no one around her would’ve been the wiser, but her beloved uncle Mordecai’s unflinching reminder to her is at the heart of the challenge for our children today:
“Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14, NIV).
Giving our children biblical heroes, wonderful memories, and joyful times together may help them learn to stand just as Esther did.
Mid-Winter Festival Countdown
If you’d like to have a Midwinter Festival, secure a location and set a date for a Saturday afternoon in early March. About six weeks before the event, enlist your adult helpers. Ideally, you’ll need one person to oversee a few all-ages games, one person to handle food arrangements, one person responsible for decorating and selecting the paper goods, a humorous emcee, and one person who excels at hammy storytelling. Of course, these jobs can be combined if necessary. If you expect a big crowd, form a committee for each task.
About three to four weeks before your party, announce the event in your adult church services and in your Sunday school classes. A simple announcement might read: “Everyone is welcome to join us from 1:30-3:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 11, for our Midwinter Festival. Dress as wild and crazy as you can. Have lots of fun creating a positive, amazing costume. There’ll be food, music, games, and more! Invite your friends to join us for a wonderful afternoon that’ll help chase away those midwinter blues.” You might want to include a few lines of historical background about Esther and the Feast of Purim in a flier or your church bulletin. Encourage all adult party helpers to read through the book of Esther in advance.
Mid-Winter Festival Games
Form teams of four to six. Give each team a roll of toilet paper. Have each team choose an “Esther.” On “go,” teams each race to completely “dress” their Esther using the entire roll of toilet paper. The first team to finish wins the game.
Form teams of four to six. Give each team a blanket, and tell them to stand on it. Then have each team step off, fold the blanket in half, and stand on it again. The goal is for a team to fold its blanket the most times and still have all its teammates fit onto it.
Before the party, write 10 actions on separate slips of paper such as sing a song, skip in a circle, recite the Pledge of Allegiance, and say your middle name. Insert a slip into each balloon. Inflate and tie off the balloons.
Have everyone stand in a circle and pass one balloon around as quickly as possible while music plays. When the music stops, the person with the balloon pops it and does whatever the direction inside prompts. Continue playing until all the balloons are popped.
For this game, you’ll need a bag of rod pretzels and a bag of twist pretzels. Form teams of eight to 10, then give each person a rod pretzel. Have teams line up single file. The first person in each line holds the rod pretzel in his mouth, and a “line judge” slips a twisted pretzel over its end. This person race-walks to the other end of the room with the pretzels, then returns to the next player, and passes the twisted pretzel on to the next team member, without using any hands. This continues until every player has had a turn. The line judge offers new pretzels if teams’ pretzels hit the floor.
Mid-Winter Festival Party Pointers
Fresh fruits and nuts are a part of a traditional Purim celebration. Round out your menu by adding cookies, cupcakes (decorated with small Israeli flags, if you like), lemonade or punch, and big bowls of popcorn. You’ll also need hamantaschen. Any celebration of the Esther account wouldn’t be complete without a plateful of these delicious pastries. This snack, named after Esther’s nemesis, is supposed to look like the evil Haman’s hat. Simple to make, they’ll add an authentic touch to your party.
- 4 cups flour
- 3 teaspoons baking powder
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 4 eggs
- 1/3 cup vegetable oil
- Grated rind of either one lemon or one orange
- Apricot jam,
- canned poppy seed filling, and/or
- the traditional canned prune filling
Mix dry ingredients. Add eggs, oil, and grated rind. Mix thoroughly. Add enough water to make a sticky dough. Roll out the dough on a floured surface to 1/8-inch thickness and cut into 4-inch rounds. Place a heaping teaspoon of filling in the center of each round. Fold over edges of each round and pinch three corners to form a triangle. Place on a greased baking sheet in a 375-degree oven.
Set a festive mood with bright tablecloths, colorful balloons, and streamers. One of our church members created a series of mural-size wall decorations from rolls of newsprint. The murals included a simple timeline placing Esther in history (most scholars set the account during the years 485-465 B.C., the same time period as the books of Ezra and Nehemiah), a newspaper-style headline celebrating Esther’s accomplishments such as “Esther Saves her People,” and a few brightly lettered quotes from the book of Esther. Sparkling crowns, fashioned from silver paper, can dangle from the ceilings or adorn the serving table.
Your emcee will help move people from event to event. This person can welcome everyone, then announce the games. The most important job is introducing each costumed child in the fashion show. This person should be funny, gentle, and gregarious as he or she introduces each child. The emcee should also offer a prayer before the kids dive into the snacks.
Groups of children can move onto your stage. The emcee interviews each child. The fashion show gives children a moment to show off their outfits in a fun and friendly environment. Our church decided against offering prizes for the best costume since it would leave one winner and many nonwinners. We didn’t want anyone leaving with hurt or sad feelings.
After the fashion show, have the emcee distribute paper “courage awards,” which are simple prize ribbons printed with the date of your party and the words from Deuteronomy 31:6: “Be strong and courageous…the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you” (NIV).
Resources on the Feast of the Purim
On the Internet, you’ll find these great Purim Web sites.
- This colorful gateway to Purim on the Webincludes the story of Purim, costume ideas, recipes, links and more. (www.holidays.net/purim/)
- A helpful explanation of the Feast of Purim. (www.jewfaq.org/holiday9.htm)
- You’ve never seen Scripture presented like this! It looks like a supermarket tabloid, but contains the book of Esther — complete with eye-grabbing headlines. (www.jcn18.com/holiday/purim/mocknews)
- Curriculum and lesson plans from the Jewish Agency for Israel. Make sure you type “festivls” rather than “festivals,” though. (www.jajz-ed.org.il/festivls/purim/index.html)
Looking for more winter ideas? Start here!